StrategyFebruary 23, 2004

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Decisions, Decisions…

By Arlo Vander

A-Rod or Pujols? Matsui or Reyes? Weeks or Fielder? These are just a few of the questions fantasy owners have been asking, and will find themselves faced with on draft day. Let’s take a look at several of these choices.

The Best of the Best: Alex Rodriguez vs. Albert Pujols

Alex Rodriguez has been the consensus number one fantasy pick in most scoring systems for several years now, providing his owners with phenomenal stats from a hard-to-fill middle infield position. Now, he takes his act to the House that Ruth Built, where he’ll not only benefit from New York’s strong lineup, but add 3B eligibility as well.

Albert Pujols was last season’s most valuable fantasy hitter in 5×5 formats, beating out Gary Sheffield and Rodriguez on the strength of his stellar .359 average. Unfortunately, Pujols no longer qualifies at 3B this year, but he can still be played at both OF and 1B. Only twenty-four years old, Pujols could be among the greats of the game for a very long time, and some, particularly those who endorse drafting by best available player, see him replacing Rodriguez as this year’s top fantasy pick.

The Choice: Rodriguez. Pujols may well post better overall numbers once again, but with far more depth at 1B and OF than at SS or 3B, owning A-Rod will give your team a greater edge over your competition. A-Rod’s lead over others who roam the left side of the infield more than makes up for any advantage in stats Pujols might wind up with. If you’re in the fortunate position of picking first in your draft, choose Alex Rodriguez.

AL Center Fielders: Torii Hunter vs. Randy Winn

Torii Hunter followed up on his 2002 breakout season by hitting 26 home runs and a career-high 102 RBI last year. While known primarily for his spectacular catches in the outfield, Hunter is a true five-tool player. Plate discipline has been a problem for the former all-star in the past, but he was able to post a career-best K/BB ratio of just over 2:1 last season. Hunter’s batting average and stolen bases didn’t keep pace with his power numbers, however, winding up well below their 2002 levels.

Randy Winn hit 11 home runs last season, knocking in 75 runs. It was his speed that made him a valuable asset, however, as he stole 23 bases in 28 attempts. Following a trade from Tampa Bay, where he was an All-Star in 2002, Winn adjusted well to playing his home games at Safeco Field, keeping his batting average at the .295+ level for a second straight season, although he also still occasionally suffers from lack of patience. Hitting in Seattle’s lineup allowed Winn to reach the 100-run mark for the first time.

The Choice: Winn. Perhaps because the 2002 season is still etched in our memories, Hunter is being drafted well before Winn in a surprising number of drafts. The numbers tell a different story, however. Last season, Winn’s value in mixed 5×5 leagues was nearly $20; Hunter earned only $11. Hunter still hasn’t reached his ceiling and may be able to raise his game further, but for now, underrated Randy Winn looks like a safer fantasy option.

Mets Infielders: Kazuo Matsui vs. Jose Reyes

Kazuo Matsui is a highly talented middle infielder who’ll be calling Shea Stadium home this season, completing the migration of Japan’s Big Three hitters to the majors. He should delight fantasy owners by hitting for speed and average, but in spite of his 33 home runs last season for the Pacific League’s Seibu Lions, shouldn’t be expected to contribute a whole lot of power. The big question mark surrounding Matsui is how his numbers will translate to the majors. With an approach closer to Ichiro’s than to that of namesake Hideki Matsui, there’s reason to be optimistic.

Jose Reyes is also a talented middle infielder who’ll be roaming the middle infield at Shea, moving to second base to make room for Matsui at shortstop. Like Matsui, Reyes should steal his share of bases, but isn’t a power threat. His success will depend largely on whether he can maintain a high batting average; he hit a surprising .307 for the Mets last season, but before being called up last June, his average at AAA Norfolk was a mere .269.

The Choice: Reyes. If both players only qualified at shortstop, Matsui, who is projected to be the Mets’ leadoff hitter and should swipe more bags, would be the call, but the position is far deeper than it once was. The emergence of Edgar Renteria and Angel Berroa coupled with the arrival of players such as Matsui, Khalil Greene, and Bobby Crosby have led to an abundance of SS talent the likes of which we haven’t seen before. Second base, on the other hand, remains difficult to fill. Unless you’re already set at 2B, Reyes gets the nod by a nose.

Lower-Tier Relievers: Ryan Wagner vs. Fernando Rodney

Ryan Wagner has certainly captured the attention of the fantasy community. Armed with an excellent fastball clocked at 94 mph and an impressive slider, Wagner is considered the heir apparent for the closer job in Cincinnati, currently held by veteran Danny Graves, and has been moving up in quite a few owners’ cheat sheets. Wagner impressed in a callup last season, striking out 25 batters in 21.2 inninings and allowing just 13 hits en route to a 1.66 era. Only 21, Wagner showed remarkable poise and could become an outstanding big league reliever.

Fernando Rodney heads into spring training as the Tigers’ closer, but his job is far from secure. His fastball hits the high 90s, but doesn’t have quite as much movement as Wagner’s. Rodney also relies on an above-average changeup. After notching 23 saves and posting a 1.33 era at AAA Toledo, Rodney’s callup to Detroit was less successful. While he showed the ability to strike hitters out, he also proved to be hittable, and finished the campaign with a 6.07 era.

The Choice: Rodney. Yes, he plays for the lowly Tigers, and yes, Wagner is the more talented pitcher. But Wagner won’t be closing games in Cincinnati this season unless Danny Graves unravels, and even then, it’s possible that Chris Reitsma would be given the job. As long as Rodney remains penciled in as Detroit’s closer, he’s worth taking ahead of Wagner in single-season league that don’t count holds.

Brewers Prospects: Prince Fielder vs. Rickie Weeks

Prince Fielder, Miwaukee’s first round pick in 2002, might just be the most talented hitter in the minors today. The son of slugger Cecil Fielder, he posted tremendous numbers as A-level Beloit’s 1B last season, finishing with 27 HR, 112 RBI, a .313 average, and a solid 80/71 K/BB ratio, winning accolades as the Midwest League’s MVP and Prospect of the Year.

Rickie Weeks began the year at Southern University, but after stops in the Arizona League and Beloit, the second-baseman finished the season in the bigs with Milwaukee. His cameo with the Brewers wasn’t terribly impressive, but his OPS scores of 1.606 at Southern and 1.050 at Beloit were.

The Choice: This one is nearly too close to call. Fielder’s ceiling is higher, but at age nineteen, it may be some time before he earns a regular job in the big show. Weeks, on the other hand, will provide more immediate benefits and plays a very shallow position. This is a choice that should be made strictly on your team’s needs, but Fielder’s potential is so high that this might be a rare case where upside outweighs positional scarcity and an earlier arrival date.

Drawing the first pick on draft day and being faced with a choice between Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols would bring a large smile to Arlo Vander’s face.

Hunter over Winn? Reyes over Matsui? Wagner behind Rodney? Is all this sound strategy, or just crazy talk? Let us know which players you would have chosen!

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